Each of the three central Ohio high school football teams that won regional championships Nov. 16 has had to overcome questions this fall.
Eastmoor Academy was dealt a 55-24 loss to Westerville Central in Week 3 and has endured injuries to several key players the last two weeks.
Pickerington Central had its league-title streak snapped at 12, and Olentangy Liberty entered the postseason with four losses.
What the trio has in common, though, is that each has gotten hot at the right time.
Here are five things we learned from the regional finals:
1. Eastmoor has refused to allow difficult circumstances to keep it from making its longest postseason run in a decade.
On its way to making a state semifinal for the first time since it was a 2008 state runner-up, Eastmoor has had to overcome injuries to its top player, senior running back Savon Edwards, each of the last two weeks.
Edwards managed 131 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 17 carries before leaving late in the third quarter of the Warriors’ 20-14 victory over Thornville Sheridan in the Division III, Region 11 final at Lancaster.
The Warriors improved to 12-1, also because their defense limited Sheridan quarterback Ethan Heller to 7-for-24 passing for 74 yards.
2. It’s time to stop categorizing Liberty as a surprise.
The Patriots might not have an athlete like former standout quarterback and current Ohio State defensive back Brendon White leading the way, and they entered the postseason after not beating even one team that posted a winning record.
As was the case the last two postseasons, though, Liberty has taken off, beating Dublin Coffman 21-7 in the Division I, Region 2 final at New Albany for its third consecutive regional title.
Senior Mitchell Okuley continues to show he knows how to perform in the clutch. In addition to quarterbacking the Patriots in each of their regional title wins, he helped the baseball team win state last spring.
3. Central’s offense has started to hit its stride at the right time.
After the Tigers got three interception returns for touchdowns and a safety in their regional semifinal, their offense showed flashes of the same success it enjoyed in last year’s state title run during a 20-13 victory over Hilliard Davidson in the Division I, Region 3 final at Gahanna.
Running back Jamir Jackson rushed for 97 yards and two touchdowns and quarterback Demeatric Crenshaw had his best game of the postseason, rushing for 91 yards and one score.
The Tigers’ defense, meanwhile, limited the Wildcats to one touchdown and a pair of field goals.
4. The loss to Central doesn’t take away from Davidson’s return to prominence this season.
The Wildcats haven’t won a regional title since 2013, but they looked much more like the program that from 2005-13 made five state semifinals and won two state titles.
Even without injured Jordan Hicks, its leading rusher, Davidson rushed for 224 yards against Central as Kalib O’Connor had 182 yards on 26 carries.
The Wildcats also didn’t have their leading tackler, Evan Annis, because of injury but still had the ball during the final three minutes with a chance to tie the game.
Both of Davidson’s losses this season were to Central.
5. Coffman put together its best season in nearly a decade.
The Shamrocks last made it to a regional final in 2009 before their run to that round this fall.
Coffman committed two turnovers that led to Liberty touchdowns and scored its only touchdown after it trailed 21-0.
Still, putting together a season in which it went 11-2 and won two playoff games is a reminder that coach Mark Crabtree has one of central Ohio’s most consistent programs.